Not Just Playing Around
Seventh graders saw just how relevant math and science can be when their teachers assigned a cross-disciplinary design challenge to create a better playground. Students went to the school playground to observe how it was used. They also interviewed kids about what they liked and didn’t like about the current playground. The teachers asked them to think about safety and notice where kids were bumping into one another. Based on their observations they designed a playground that was safe and easy for kids to use.
In their math class, the students built a scale model of the playground; putting their knowledge of fractions and percentages to use. In their science class, they applied what they were learning about simple machines by building a model of one of the structures that would be a part of the playground and were able to see the principals of machines in action!
The students were really excited to see how math and science worked in the real world and teachers reported that during the week of the design challenge they had 100% attendance.
The Global Water Challenge
Science teachers used the Design Process to put a new spin on a Global Water Challenge Project at their Middle School. Students each chose a country and spent time researching their country and the specific challenges and needs the population faced related to water. They then created a Composite Character that represented the various perspectives and water needs of their country’s population. The students then began designing for the Composite Characters; they brainstormed and prototyped ideas for how to creatively address the country’s water needs and challenges.
At the culmination of the project, students presented their ideas to a panel of judges in a competition for the most innovative idea.
Running Toward Design
Design Thinking led to a marked improvement in the level of engagement and understanding in a high school physics class in Santa Rosa, CA. After completing a customized Design Thinking curriculum, the students were hooked on the subject. Concepts such as friction, light and sound were suddenly demystified and brought to life.
In one exercise students designed a performance running shoe taking into account all of the forces that act on a runner’s foot. “That is so interesting!” … “How does that happen?”… were comments and questions that became a regular part of the class dynamics during the Running Shoe project. Furthermore, the teacher noticed a significant improvement in the quality of the students’ final project presentations. She described them as “stunning” and was impressed by the students’ abilities to articulate a deep understanding of the concepts.
At the end of the class the teacher reported that over 50% of her introductory physics students showed a better understanding of the material than her AP physics students.
A 9th grade physics teacher at a school outside of Philadelphia, PA, taught her students Newton’s Laws and the concept of friction using the local train as a case study. The teacher challenged students to design a way to enhance the train riding experience for the passengers on the train. They started by interviewing passengers at the local train station to better understand their needs and challenges. Next, they made composite characters to synthesize what they had learned. They built prototypes based on the needs they discovered and then had the chance to ride the train to test out their ideas. One example of a prototype that was developed was a device that would stabilize a bike during the acceleration and deceleration of the train so that commuters who brought their bikes would have an easier time managing them while on the train.
The teacher observed that her students were much more engaged and excited. They understood how the concepts they were learning related to their everyday lives and performed well on the part of their mid-term that addressed the unit. She also found that the collaboration on the project allowed students not generally thought of as academically strong, to perform in a way that she had never seen.
Growing Gardens and Pride
In a secondary school in Singapore the science department initiated a design challenge around the school garden. The head of the department noticed the school garden was poorly maintained and under-utilized and decided to involve students in a design challenge to redesign the garden for enhanced learning. Students set up a Facebook page to gather feedback, get support and share reflections. The school also brought in orchid experts to work with the students. As a result of the challenge the school has a much more beautiful and productive garden and the students have a great deal of pride and ownership for the redesigned garden.